Culture as History: The 1930's

Fall 2019
Evening and Weekend
Class Size: 25
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Vauhn Foster-Grahler
mathematics, education, anthropological mathematics
Mark Harrison
theatre, opera, film, performance studies

What is culture and how does it inform our interpretation of history? As we explore this question, students will study works of fiction, film and animation, visual art and history to determine how culture shapes our ideas about past and present realities.

Our subject will be the 1930s, also known as the Great Depression. We will begin by examining the mythology of frontier and the cultural identity of early 20 th  century America up to the stock market crash of 1929. By the 1930’s, money and technology—capitalism and new modes of transportation—drove westward migration as waves of immigrants searched for a better life. Central questions we will address include: how did the Great Depression and the policy created to deal with that crisis change the way we see government? What was the impact of two great migrations—from the dust bowl states to the West, and from the agricultural South to the industrial north—on American society? In such a time of hardship and deprivation, how did the Golden Age of Hollywood shape our outlook and understanding of the time through genre films, such as the screwball comedy, the musical, the gangster film and the Western?  

Our texts will include plays by Clifford Odets ( Waiting for Lefty)  and August Wilson ( The Piano Lesson ), Charlie Chaplin’s classic Modern Times  and other ground-breaking genre films, the photography of Dorothea Lange, stories by Eudora Welty and John Steinbeck, and Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time, a gripping account of those who survived the dust bowl We will analyze these and other cultural products of the Great Depression to determine their impact on our understanding of 1930s history. We will analyze tensions around race and class as they figure in film, novels, and popular culture of the period and, by extension, the present day. This program will offer a rare opportunity to pair a rich qualitative approach to film, literature, and other aspects of culture as history with exciting tools in quantitative analysis (reading and interpreting information), introduction to graph theory (how far is it to New York?), and other topics as appropriate. Our study may include a field trip to attend a performance at the Seattle Repertory Theatre or a visit to the Tacoma Car Museum.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

education, statistics, media studies, american studies, and performance studies.


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

$25 required fee to cover entrance for field trips. 

Class Standing: Freshman–Senior
Class Size: 25

Scheduled for: Evening and Weekend

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Wednesday, October 2, 2019 - 5:30 pm
SEM 2 D2107 - Seminar

Located in: Olympia

2019-08-06New program added for fall quarter